Slice of Social Justice: CMSA Facilitates a Workshop on Understanding the Racial Wealth and Income Gap

Returning with their Slice of Social Justice series, the Campus Ministry and Social Action suite led a workshop about the racial wealth and income gap on Wednesday, March 3. The workshop comes from a resource developed by Network, a Catholic advocacy organization, to show the policies that have contributed to the intentional structural racism and inequality in the United States.

This event was interactive, inviting audience members to fill the shoes of those living through the systemic changes and laws enacted in the U.S. that have impacted the racial wealth and income gap since the Civil War. Kathleen Von Euw, Asst. Director of CMSA, stated at the beginning of the event that the workshop’s purpose was to educate, rather than address possible solutions for the gap. Casey Monroe, a graduate assistant for CMSA, describes how the purpose of the event was to give students a better understanding of the topic.

“[The activity] is to show you an understanding of the creation and perpetuation of the racial wealth and income gap,” Monroe said.

Von Euw told The Quadrangle that CMSA has run this workshop for years now, and it is part of their Social Justice Immersion Programs. However, the CMSA has also offered the workshop to different groups on campus and has used it in a multitude of programs within their office.

Von Euw shared that using this workshop in a Slice of Social Justice event was inspired by the fact that many of their other programs and retreats are not possible this year due to the pandemic. By using it in the event on Wednesday, the office hoped the workshop would reach more of the MC community.

At the event, the facilitators went through a number of agreements that established support and participation for all that were involved and encouraged members to embrace any discomfort that they may experience during the activity. Naouras Mousa Almatar, a graduate assistant for CMSA, also read a poem titled “An Invitation to Brave Space,” before the groups began.

The groups each went through a simulation wherein some members were assigned a Black persona, and others a white persona. The facilitators led their group through 12 policies so that after each policy every member could directly acknowledge the impact it had on their hypothetical family. This was done through distributing symbolic ‘cards’, including lost opportunity cards, money cards and land cards.

After the completion of the 12 policies that stretched from 1619 (the beginning of slavery in America) to the present day, the first Black family had one money card, zero land cards and 26 lost opportunity cards; the second Black family had zero money cards, zero land cards and 26 lost opportunity cards; the first white family had 20 money cards, 14 land cards and 0 lost opportunity cards; and second white family had 15 money cards, nine land cards and two lost opportunity cards.

“I knew there was inequality in just income and wealth, between Black families and white families, but just doing the activity and seeing the numbers, I was pretty surprised by how much Black families would lose money, and white families would just gain money for seemingly doing nothing,” said Johannah Dalo, a junior psychology major who attended the event.

These results were based on the fact-driven data of American families over the last centuries due to actual American legislation and policy. Specifically, the policies covered were slave codes, the Fugitive Slave Act and American chattel slavery (1619-1865); Andrew Johnson’s land policies and share-cropping (1965-1880); land seizures (1865-1960s); the National Housing Act of 1934; the Wagner Act of 1935; the Social Security Act of 1935; the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938; the GI Bill of 1944; the end of the Separate But Equal Doctrine (1954-present day); the Federal Highway Act of 1956; subprime loans (1970s-present day); and the War on Drugs (1971-present day).

Many participants were shocked after the activity since several of the earlier mentioned policies are taught and celebrated as cherished American legislature that was intended to help Americans, not hurt them. In regards to the Wagner Act of 1935, the Social Security Act of 1935, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the GI Bill of 1944 and the Federal Highway Act of 1956, American history books don’t teach us how specific the group of Americans who received full benefits actually was. In all of these cases, the workshop demonstrated how people of color were excluded and even targeted in these policies.

“It’s really hard to explain systemic racism because people tend to think of it as emotional animas, or something that’s really individual, and they never think of themselves as having it, because most people don’t have it, consciously, so this is a great way to explain structural embeddedness,” said Jonathan Keller, Ph.D, professor of political science at the event. “But also, all these programs, it struck me, going through that list, kind of New Deal [programs], are all framed as these great, universal, rising-tide-lifts-all-boats programs, and they’re lauded that way, people love FDR, they love that about him, so it’s interesting.”

The activity demonstrated that the largest single driver for the income and wealth gap comes from inequities in homeownership. Almatar further explained the earlier mentioned policies impacts on homeownership for people of color.

“The influences of redlining [designating lower quality neighborhoods for people of color] on the housing landscape include intentionally segregated neighborhoods, under fullness goals in segregated neighborhoods, Black access to quality healthcare and nutrition, and adequate public transportation, limited economic opportunities, and non-traditional sources of income, and rampant gentrification,” Almatar said.

The CMSA facilitators closed their presentation with statistics of homeownership, income and wealth gaps between racial lines. According to their graphics, D-rated neighborhoods in America that are considered ‘hazardous’ were found to be 40 percent Black in 2010, while A-rated neighborhoods with the ‘best’ quality were found to be only 10 percent Black the same year.

Furthermore, the presentation showcased graphics that demonstrated homeownership rates by race from 1976-2016. The rates stayed relatively consistent throughout that period for all of the groups, with white family homeownership landing at 68 percent in 2016, Black families homeownership reported as 46 percent that year, and Hispanic families landing at 42 percent homeownership.

In terms of net wealth, the CMSA offered a graph that demonstrated the gap in median net wealth between white families and Black and Hispanic families. For all non-white families in 1963, there was a $50,000 disparity between their median net wealth and that of white families. Shifting to the comparison of white and Black families, there was a nearly $100,000 disparity of median net wealth in 1983, and an approximately $150,000 disparity in 2016. For Hispanic families, there was also an approximately $100,000 disparity between their median net wealth and white families’ in 1983, and a $150,000 disparity between the groups in 2016. Hispanic families were reported to have about a $3,000 higher net wealth than Black families in 2016.

These statistics are a direct result of the policies mentioned earlier, and furthered the explanation of systemic racism in America. Monroe has found this workshop to be very eye-opening, especially in regards to her own family.

“The first time that I did the event, I kind of looked at it from the perspective of people that I knew in my family at the time were going through those different things, those moments of history,” Monroe said. “I have two uncles who were Black, who were fighting in the war, one fought in the Vietnam War, and then I believe the other one fought in the Korean War. The reason that I say that, is when we put the GI Bill in perspective, for example, knowing that they didn’t receive all of the benefits of that and knowing them as individual people was really interesting, because they were such good and kind-hearted people, and to see that from my perspective, and my own personal point of view, was very difficult to come to terms with.”

Monroe also shared that her great-grandmother was half-white and half-Black, which Monroe feels had left her in a confusing position considering the two-sided rhetoric often used in American history.

“I think that something that’s interesting to touch on is the lack of recognition of other communities besides White and Black, the lack of recognition for the Hispanic community, and the Asian community, and the Native American community, that they weren’t regarded in that conversation either, and they were just split between the two,” Monroe said. “There’s no acknowledgment of the multitude of diversity that we have in this country and not only diversity in race, but in gender and class and sexuality and all of these different things, so I find it interesting that so many things were just kind of split in two and you were either one or the other.”

Monroe further elaborates that she finds the country to not be as inclusive as it appears to be.

“We’re known as this melting pot of a country, and yet there are so many instances where we don’t make the country that we live in comfortable and adaptable for everyone that’s living it in,” Monroe said.

Monroe believes that all races need to learn about these policies and structures.

“I think that comes from the perspective of all races having an understanding of racism at a systemic level, instead of just seeing it conceptually at face value is really important,” Monroe said. “You understand that it’s so much bigger than just a few instances that you see in the media, and that it’s something that’s been long-standing and prevalent in our nation in so many different capacities, and I think it’s so important, not only for people who don’t understand racism to be able to see this is something that is happening in our nation and within each and every space that I may potentially be entering, but also for people who do experience racism at any sort of level, to understand that the racism that is eventually going to be happening in my space is not just going to be something that’s happening at person-to-person contact, it’s something that can also happen in a way that I might not even notice it, because it’s a much more systemic issue.”

Von Euw added to Monroe’s comment, and emphasized the importance of Americans unlearning false narratives in order to understand the real systems behind structural racism in our country.

“I think that by helping people to understand how structurally racist policies were created, we can address that the racial wealth and income gap that we have was intentional,” Von Euw said. “The segregation of our neighborhoods and housing discrimination was intentional, and I think it’s important for people to understand that history so that we can work to dismantle those systems.”

Von Euw explained that the CMSA office at MC has used resources from Network for years, and that they have very accessible educational resources online for everyone.

“[Network] provides tons of workshops,” Von Euw said. “If you go on their website, you can download a lot of these educational resources, like, they make everything super accessible, so it’s not just them giving the workshops, but that other people can use it in their own communities, which forwards the education.”

The CMSA will be offering more Slice of Social Justice events this semester to further education and discussion on social justice issues. The next event will be a discussion about violence against native women, led by guest speaker Sutton King of the Urban Indigenous Collective, in collaboration with MC’s Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center on March 10 at 8 p.m. The CMSA will also host a discussion on the death penalty on March 24.